I never cease to be amazed and disheartened by the antics of the religious worldwide. A day does not pass without some outrage committed by some religion, or some group of religious people, somewhere. One of the sources for this checklist of religious horrors is Ophelia Benson’s “Latest News” over at butterfliesandwheels.org. I thought I was going to do something similar here on choiceindying.com, but it never really took off. It needs constant attention, and at my age attention span is a bit meagre. But just as a for instance, let’s take the latest offerings from Ophelia’s website:
He could be picked up at any time, and his lawyers are advising him to leave the country for a bit. Spread the word, donate if you can.
4 women and 2 men were sentenced to death by a jirga for singing and dancing at a wedding. The men managed to flee but the women were all killed.
Despite amicus briefs from eighty respected experts, the state of Indiana will do its best to send Shuai to prison. Potential sentence: 45 to 65 years.
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle has been told that members of the anti-gay church plan to be present at the funeral of Gloria Koch Leonidas on Thursday.
And this goes on, day after day, sometimes hour after hour, one religious horror piled on to the next …., and the next, and the next! It’s this that gets my goat every time someone complains about the new atheism, as though the new atheism is a form of extremism, when it’s patently obvious that it’s scarcely extreme enough. How does one counter the kind of idiocy represented by the religions without going postal? And yet the new atheism is confined to making arguments, and pointing out the madnesses and inconsistencies of religion. Who could possibly complain about that?
A part of The Righteous Mind is a useful critique of the primitive type of rationalism that has lately been in vogue. Haidt is refreshingly dismissive of the “new atheism.” Considering why religious communes have lasted longer than secular ones, he writes: “The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship. Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally.”
Here Gray simply lapses into uncritical emotional response, where elsewhere he seems to be critically awake. The ritual practices which contemporary science of religion call costly, hard to fake signs of commitment, Gray simply supinely accepts as a new atheist dismissal of something socially important, achieving cooperation without kinship. This, as Philip Kitcher points out in his wonderfully penetrating book The Ethical Project, is part of the ethical project, a wholly human creation, and not, in any sense, dependent on supernaturalist ideas.
Why does John Gray simply turn off his mind at this point? Because it’s easy and customary. The new atheists are the pariahs of the intellectual community. They are dismissed regularly as extremists, strident, arrogant and simplistic, almost always by people who have not read them. It’s an easy cop. In a way it’s as easy as dismissing the religion of the Vikings. It’s not a living reality for people — people like R. Joseph Hoffmann — to pull a name out of a hat — who thinks that what is taught in departments of religious studies is a necessary foundation for criticising religion. And at a certain level, he’s right. If you want to engage in a critical study of religion, you have to do what departments of religious studies do. But that’s not what the new atheism is about. It’s about present reality, and the idiocies that are promulgated, daily, hourly, in the name of religion, and the offences that are done to good sense and humanity in the name of religion — the killing of women who sang at a wedding, the trial for murder of a woman who in despair attempted suicide, the charge of blasphemy against a man who showed a bleeding statue was a religious scam, and, of course, the ever-present Fred Phelpses of the world, the idiots who think they are doing their god’s will by being as obnoxious and intrusive as they can.
Should these things be entered in religion’s debit column? Yes, of course, because they’re repeated again and again without surcease, until the litany of idiocy seems to know no bounds at all. And yet people like John Gray can call the new atheists’ reasoning primitive, because they see this kind of idiocy as the inevitable spin-off from religion. Well, I think it’s high time we told religion to shove it. It’s continuously trying to determine how we live our lives — like the stupid pope and his church criticising a nun for thinking that sex is a perfectly normal and natural thing, and should be recognised as such, without all the doom of mortal sin hanging over every erotic feeling. Or like the churches’ constantly running interference on people’s desire to have the right to assistance in dying when life has become a burden too great to bear, and where further suffering is only further suffering, and nothing more, after all. It’s time for the religious just to shove it. Sure, they should have the freedom to believe whatever nonsense they want to, but they shouldn’t get to tell other people how to live their lives. They have no more insight into the moral life than the parade of religious idiocy marshaled by Ophelia Benson, day by day, and hour by hour. Let’s hear no more of religion’s value. It’s a blight on the human landscape. Let’s consign it to history, and get on with life.